Dragon Lord (aka Dragon's Breath)
Outlaw Productions (developer), Palace Software & Spotlight Software (publishers)
Andrew Bailey (creator)Released 1990 for DOS, Amiga, Atari ST
Date Started: 1 October 2013
Date Ended: 5 October 2013
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Reload Count: 5 (campaigns played)
Final Rating: 22
Ranking at Time of Posting: 32/118 (27%)
Final Rating: 22
Ranking at Time of Posting: 32/118 (27%)
Dragon Lord is an odd game, not quite an RPG, not quite a pure strategy game. It's basically a computerized board game. I think I would have been justified in eliminating it from my list, but once I'd explored the game long enough to realize that it didn't really qualify, I also realized it wouldn't take more than one post to cover.
The game takes place in a land called Anrea, a place of villages, farms, and forests, dominated by a giant spire in the center called Dwarf Mountain. A castle at the top of the mountain is rumored to contain the secret to immortality, but a three-part talisman is needed to gain entrance. The parts of the talisman are randomly scattered about the land, and each of three players is desperately trying to find them. The goal of the game is to find all three parts and occupy their surrounding villages. Once any single player gets a "monopoly" of talismans, she wins the game.
|The game map, with Dwarf Mountain int he center and three PCs' castles on the outer edges. I think even if I wasn't color-blind, the flags would be awfully small to identify colors.|
What's unique about the game is that the three contenders have no armies. Instead, each is a master of breeding and training dragons. It's the dragons that do all the work, flying across the map to search for the three talismans, attacking enemies, and conquering villages. As the game begins, each player has only one dragon, but players can breed more through a long and expensive process of incubating eggs; each player starts with 20. You need a minimum of three dragons to win the game, which means you need to conquer cities and raise taxes to be able to afford to incubate and hatch them.
|Scouting for the location of my next dragon strike.|
Each of the three characters can be controlled by the computer or a human player. They are Bachim the Alchemist, Quered the She-Vampire, and Ametrin the Green Beast. On the map, their various holdings and dragons are represented by the colors blue, green, and red. What color is Ametrin the Green Beast? You'd think green, right? You'd be wrong. It's red. In any event, I can't tell the red and green apart so I played as Bachim for most of the games. The game opens with a weird little story in which Bachim sacrifices a young girl to a dragon, but no mention is ever made of this again.
|The three PCs, each of which can be controlled by a player or by the computer.|
The game is mostly mouse-driven, with support for both keyboard and joystick in a crucial gameplay mode where you control your dragon, breathing fire on townspeople and their defenses. Aside from this one screen, the keyboard is best left alone, as a stray finger on the ESC key immediately crashes the game and dumps you to DOS.
|Controlling the dragon while strafing a town.|
Each round lasts a month, and each player generally wants to begin by going to the library and reviewing current accounts, including finances, news, and reports of whatever was accomplished during the dragons' flights in the previous month.
After that, the player has options to:
1. Send a dragon to raid or conquer a village, scout the countryside, or guard a talisman (if found). If you attack a village, you specify the dragon's level of "zeal" (attack versus defense ratio) or whether to fly the dragon yourself. You can also specify whether the dragon should return after the attack or stay and capture the city. Increased zeal means a greater number of enemies killed and thus a greater likelihood of a successful conquest, but it also increases the chances the dragon will be killed.
|Computer-controlled village conquering.|
2. Review the stable of dragons and cast spells to heal dragons and increase their characteristics.
3. Manage the incubation of new dragon eggs and cast spells on them to determine the hatched dragon's characteristics.
|Incubating dragon eggs. The hourglass tells you how long you have to go. The wheel is used to adjust heat levels, which can speed up incubation time but costs more money each month.|
4. Cast spells on villages to increase or decrease the populations.
5. Purchase spell ingredients from traders.
6. Adjust the taxation levels of already-conquered cities.
|My citizens always seem to be on the verge of revolt, no matter how little I tax them.|
Each kingdom requires a certain amount of maintenance each month, and incubating dragon eggs costs money for the heat, so conquest and taxation of towns is necessary to make money. (Though if you tax too much, the citizens may revolt and destroy their own villages.) A monthly "Area Happenings" log indicates what villages are at war with each other, sometimes leading to kidnappings and hostage situations, which a timely dragon attack can resolve, leading to a reward from the aggrieved party.
With the exception of spells, the gameplay elements aren't terribly complicated--there's no detailed resource management that you find in pure strategy games--but the graphics are terrific. Each player's turn starts with a nice panoramic of his or her respective castle, and there are equally good graphics for the incubation chamber, dragon stables, and other aspects of the game.
|The main screen for Ametrin. The icons on the bottom allow him to see the world map, review dragons, incubate eggs, review accounts, and cast spells.|
In contrast to the rest of the game, the spell system is utterly baffling. Perhaps it's because I don't have the original documentation (the only manual I could find was text-only), but I can't make heads or tails of it. There are 2 ingredients of various properties that can be cut, ground, and mixed in various quantities and at various heat levels. The game gives no recipes for its spells, only suggesting that you experiment and create your own spell list. How?
|I have no idea what's going on here.|
Although the right spells can improve your finances and egg supplies, bolster dragons, and fortify or damage villages, they're not strictly necessary to win. But the manual warns that even if you don't do anything with spells, "other players (especially computer-controlled characters) probably will and thus [will] have an advantage." Moreover, using these spells decreases the chances that your dragon will die, which is an extremely painful setback, given how long it takes to incubate and hatch one.
The game barely meets two of my criteria for RPGs: "character" development (in the incubation and spell-fortification of dragons) and statistics-based combat, but both are largely dependent on the optional spell system. In reality, the game more resembles a medieval Monopoly as you amass cities and taxes and try to find the right combination of squares for the talismans.
During my gameplay, the biggest difficulty I had was staying solvent. (If you run out of gold, your game essentially ends.) You really can't let the grass grow; you have to send all your dragons on missions of conquest each month and tax the bejesus out of your conquered cities to keep enough in the coffers.
After a few failed campaigns, I "won" in kind of a lame way, by controlling two of the characters against a computer-controlled third. This allowed me to concentrate more on developing dragons and searching and less on battle. The computer-controlled character eventually lost all his money and dragons and retired. Even with other players out of the game, though, there's no guarantee that you'll win. The talismans are hard to find, sometimes requiring multiple scouting trips to each area of the map, and you could easily run out of funds or dragons during this process.
|Even with no competition, this screen took over an hour to achieve.|
The game wasn't designed as a traditional CRPG, and thus won't do well in my GIMLET. I give it:
- 3 points for the game world. The back story is only okay, and the PCs effect real changes on the campaign map, but there's no real "lore" here. One element I did like was the constant feuding between towns and their lords--feuding that you can solve once and for all with a dragon attack. Towns also collapse and appear during the course of the game.
|Having conquered this city, I get a reward from its rivals.|
- 1 point for character creation and development. Creation and development of "characters" is done through drag incubation and spellcasting. The spellcasting system is too damned hard to figure out and "development" is thus an optional aspect of the game. You can name hatched dragons, though.
|Dragon hatching is the only character "creation" the game offers.|
- 0 points for NPC interaction. There is none.
- 2 points for encounters and foes. There are none of either in the traditional RPG sense, so the points are more a reflection of the way you must plot conquest and searching routes across the battle map, evaluating strengths and weaknesses of various cities, and administering your conquests.
- 4 points for magic and combat. This is another category tough to review in a typical RPG sense. But there are some tactics associated with combat, in the way you evaluate a city and decide what strategies to use. There are more tactics associated with the action-oriented version of the combat, which I never really mastered. I'm taking it on faith that the spell system is interesting and awarding a point for it, but I don't understand it at all and I'm not willing to keep playing the game long enough to figure it out.
|Dragons can fight each other if they appear in the same square.|
- 1 point for equipment. I give it to the various spell reagents and the trading system that allows you to buy them. There are no weapons, armor, or standard CRPG equipment in the game.
- 4 points for the economy, perhaps the strongest part of the game. Maintaining and incubating dragons is expensive, and gold is a precious resource. The game encourages you to plan your conquests with this in mind, favoring attacks on cities whose enemies will reward you, or rescuing hostages taken by one city or another. Throughout the game, my ledger was a far more effective foe than any of my computer-controlled fellow PCs.
|Out of both money and dragons, there's nothing left for Bachim to do.|
- 1 point for the quests. One main quest, not very interesting. No options, no side-quests. You would expect none in a strategy game.
- 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are very nice. The sound effects are sparse, but not annoying, and there's an occasional bit of victory or death music. I found the mostly mouse-based controls intuitive enough, but it takes too many clicks to accomplish some simple goals.
- 2 points for gameplay. It gets these by being "replayable," which of course is the entire point of board-game-inspired strategy games. I felt that each campaign was a little too long and difficult (you could control all three characters and still not be guaranteed a victory thanks to dragon deaths and the vagaries of finances).
The final score of 22 is very low. The game has great graphics and some interesting ideas, but I didn't enjoy it as an RPG, and I didn't enjoy it for whatever it was supposed to be.
The game was developed by Outlaw Productions and published by Palace Software in the U.K. (as Dragon's Breath) and by Spotlight Software in the U.S. Palace was known primarily for action games, and this is the only game in its catalog that even pretends to be an RPG. The creator of the game, Andrew Bailey, has a little retrospective of the game on the side of his current company, Drop Spider. It's the second game I've played that was originally published in the U.K., and like the previous one, Galdregon's Domain, it has an alternate title in the U.S., questionable RPG credentials, and absolutely lovely graphics. What was it about this era that made U.K. developers focus so much on graphics yet still not "get" CRPGs?
That was a quick one. On to Wizardry VI!